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RELOADING BASICS - Keep an eye out

RELOADING BASICS - Keep an eye out

Although the basic principles of reloading are the same for most types of guns and ammunition, there are a few specific issues to bear in mind when making ammunition for lever-action rifles.

Lever-action guns

When rounds are loaded into a lever-action rifle, they are stowed in a tubular magazine positioned underneath the barrel, in a nose-to-tail configuration. When you cycle the lever of the gun downwards, the rearmost round is pushed back by the spring at the front of the magazine and forced onto a carrier. As you lift the lever back up, the carrier raises the round so it lines up with the chamber. Finally, the round then gets pushed into the chamber as the action closes. This very effective and time-served action is extremely reliable and strong, but it does present some particular issues you need to consider when making your ammunition.

Tubular magazines

With this type of magazine, where the rounds sit nose-to-tail, each time the gun is fired the recoil forces the rounds against each other. The magazine spring does soften the blow somewhat but there is still a considerable amount of force exerted through the rounds in the magazine. For this reason, you need to ensure that your bullets are sufficiently crimped in place to prevent them from being forced back into the case. If this happens, then the chamber pressure could be raised to a dangerous level and, if the round is fired, both the gun and the shooter could be damaged. It is also important to remember that if you do apply more crimp to your rounds, this will increase the chamber pressure they generate. If you are making ammunition that is at or near the maximum powder charge, it is well worth backing off a grain or so to compensate for the effect of the increased crimp.
When reloading for guns with tubular magazines, it’s important to be aware of the risk of a pointed bullet detonating the primer in the round ahead of it in the magazine. This can happen when the recoil force travels through the rounds. Pointed bullets should be avoided for this reason and flat-nosed projectiles are considered much safer. Round-nosed-flat-pointed bullets are particularly popular with lever action shooters for this specific reason.

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Bullet shape

When a round is lifted by the carrier and presented to the chamber, it is important that the bullet shape does not interfere with the forward travel of the round into the chamber. Semi-wadcutter bullets, with their stepped shoulder at the rear of the tapered section, can snag on the side of the mouth of the chamber and prevent the round from feeding. Some semi-wadcutters have a less pronounced shoulder and feed without any issues, but those with a relatively wide and flat shoulder will catch. It is well worth making up a few dummy rounds and checking that they cycle in your gun.


There are several lever-action guns in circulation made by Marlin that have Microgroove rifling rather than the more traditional and much deeper, ballard rifling. This shallower rifling was intended for use with jacketed bullets and many people consider it unsuitable for lead bullets. Although I have never had an issue when using lead bullets in a micro-grooved barrel, people have claimed that their lead bullets fail to stabilise and that they tumble in flight. If you do experience this problem, then increasing the diameter of your bullets by as little as one-thousandth of an inch will ensure that they fully obturate in the shallower rifling and so stabilise in flight.

Cartridge overall length (COL)

When a round is pushed back onto the carrier from the magazine, its length is critical, and it must fully occupy the space correctly. Once on the carrier, but before it is raised to align with the chamber, this round is still holding the others in place in the magazine, against the pressure of the magazine spring. If the round is too long, the bullet will stick out past the front of the carrier and will snag on the edge of the magazine tube as it is raised. This usually results in the round being ‘flipped’ up, causing the action to jam and damage to the bullet.
If the round is too short when it comes out of the magazine and onto the carrier, then it will not hold the next round back far enough and it too will engage on the carrier. When this happens, you will be able to see the head of the next round sticking out. When you try to raise the lever, to close the action, the round sticking out of the magazine will stop the carrier from rising and you will have a jam, which is a bit of a trial to clear. You have to push the round sticking out back into the magazine and then close the action. However, each time you open the action the same jam will occur until the magazine is empty. Full-wadcutter bullets should not be used from the magazine of a lever-action for this specific reason and they should only be fed one at a time directly into the chamber.
If you make up a few dummy rounds, using the cartridge overall length recommended in the reloading data, and experiment with cycling them through the action, you can avoid these issues. Sometimes that COL might need tweaking slightly to get a smooth and problem-free feed.


All of these potential problems can be avoided as long as you give them due consideration when producing your ammunition. Making up and cycling a few dummy rounds takes just a few minutes and can quickly confirm that your Cartridge’s Overall Length is correct and the bullets that you intend to use will cycle properly. You must keep in mind the effects that changes to the COL or crimp can have on chamber pressure, but this primarily only becomes a safety issue if you are making near-maximum loads.